- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (5 December 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465005640
- ISBN-13: 978-0465005642
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,07,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Evolution of Cooperation Paperback – 5 Dec 2006
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"Our ideas of cooperation will never be the same."―The Wall Street Journal
"When I read The Evolution of Cooperation in draft form, I scribbled all over my copy: 'Incredible!' 'Amazing!' 'Weird!' 'Fascinating!' 'Elegant!' 'Great!' I guess that tells you what I genuinely think of this book."
―Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach
"A fascinating introduction to the theory of cooperation, and written in a clear, informal style that makes it a joy to read."
―Times Literary Supplement
From the Back Cover
This widely-praised and much-discussed book explores how cooperation can emerge in a world of self-seeking egoists - whether superpowers, businesses, or individuals - when there is no central authority to police their actions.See all Product description
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That tournament was sponsored by Robert Axelrod of the University of Michigan who developed a computer environment that would different game programs against each other to determine which survival strategy was best adapted to survival.
For those believers of life, nasty, brutish and short, the findings were nothing short of astonishing: specifically that when actors were invovled in situations where they would be repeatedly interacting with each other, survival was best enhanced by cooperation.
Otherwise known as "the golden rule" of doing unto others as you would have done unto you, a computer program known as Tit for Tat outperformed all other competitors by first seeking cooperation and then narrowly mirroring the actions of its counterparts.
In other words, if Tit for Tat met a competitor it would first seek cooperation. If the competitor cooperated, Tit for Tat would thereafter cooperate. If the competitor defected, Tit for Tat would itself immediately defect but thereafter again seek cooperation by cooperating whenever the competitor thereafter chose to cooperate.
Since the publication of the original article detailing Axelrod's findings twenty five years ago, the study of cooperation or reciprocal ultruism has found applications not only in human behavior but also in genetics and evolution itself.
Inside every cell of your body are anywhere ranging to around 1000 mitochondria. If the test for different life forms are organisms which have their own DNA, mitochondria qualify. Yet, they have always been a part of human biology. And they have been there own life domain for the better part of two billion (or more) years.
Mitochondria's ability to productively work with their host cells is an example of both genetic and biological reciprocal ultruism.
Like any ground breaking work, like Newton's Principia or Darwin's Origin of Species, I was attracted to this work so I could better witness the original flash of genius. And like with Newton's Principia and Darwin's Origin of Species I was not disappointed but found many instances in which the original researchers had advanced speculations that frankly would remain fertile areas for further research. In the case of this book, I would include Axelrod's discussion of how to better take advantage of the benefits of reciprocal ultruism and also how systems can be more reciprocal ultruism friendly.
Interestingly, the places where reciprocal ultruism has tragically broken down are places that would easily be predicted by the over arching theory.
For students of genetics, biology and even behavior I can't recommend this book highly enough. In fact, in addition to this book I would also recommed the following:
Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley which discusses the genetic aspects of reciprocal ultruism;
Prisoner's Dilemma by William Poundstone which discusses game theory as a branch of theoretical mathematics;
Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins which is just fun; and
Oneness by Jeffrey Moses which provides verbatim quotes of the golden rule and other doxology by means of direct quotes from the world's leading religions. There's nothing like seeing material which so exactly corresponds to theoretical predictions to give you a sense of the explanatory power of the theory(ies) involved.
Chapter 1 presents the main point of the book: "How cooperation emerges in a world of egoists without central authority". This chapter also introduces the main representation of the problem (based on the prisoners dilemma), several examples of cooperation, the main arguments for cooperation (such as the fact that the prisoner dilemma is not a zero sum game, altruism, the size of the discount factor etc) and the first proposition "if the discount factor is high, there is no best strategy".
Chapter 2 describes the computer tournament where Tit for Tat is the winner (in almost all situations). I mean the author promoted a tournament for the study of the strategies that can be used to play the iterated prisoner dilemma. Besides the main conclusions of this chapter, it is also interesting because of its historical appealing. Maybe this is one of the first important applications of computer science in Economics.
Chapter 3 is one of the most lucid introductions to evolutionary game theory. Although today we may find very good books about this topic (such as Game theory evolving - Gints, Evolutionary game theory - Weibull, Evolutionary Games and Population Dynamics - Hofbauer and Sigmund), the main ideas are presented in just few pages with almost no math (this is good for some guys). Furthermore, the author uses evolutionary game theory to analyze the stability of Tit for tat, other nice strategies and the strategy the defects in all rounds.
Chapter 4 the book presents the classical example of cooperation that arose in World war I.
Chapter 5 (previously published in American political science review) deals with the evolution of cooperation in biological systems applying the main ideas discussed in previous chapters.
Chapter 6 is about how to deal with prisoners dilemmas (in real life?!). The author provides a list of advices and justifies why Tit for Tat works. For instance, it is a "nice" strategy. I mean "Be nice". But if one is not nice with you, do not be nice either.
Chapter 7 is about how to promote cooperation. What factors in the game are necessary in order to promote cooperation. For instance, the continuous interaction between the participants is fundamental.
Chapter 8 discusses how cooperation is affected by some important issues such as the fact that people are divided in groups of similar characteristics (such as race, age etc), reputation etc.
Chapter 9 is like a summary of some ideas of the book.
The book studies how agents behave and interact in social systems. It studies what strategies those agents might adopt and what strategies are most beneficial to the agent and to the whole social system. The results are very interesting. Another major question the book tackles is whether or not the strategy of cooperation can evolve in a social system where the majority of agents don't cooperate. The results are very interesting.
I strongly recommend this book.